‘Oppressive’ laws come under the spotlight

Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Dr Augustine Mahiga

Arusha, The government has come under scathing attack by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch over laws and actions deemed to be repressive ahead of next year’s polls.
However, in a quick rejoinder the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Dr Augustine Mahiga, said the government will make a thorough evaluation of the two reports.
Targeting the media, human rights defenders and the opposition, the two organisations claim the actions have intensified since 2015. “The Tanzania government must repeal all oppressive laws used to clamp on dissent,” said the Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher, Mr Roland Ebole.
Human Rights Watch researcher Oryem Nyeko echoed: “With only a year to go (before elections), this government needs to reverse these patterns of abuses.”
Speaking with The Citizen yesterday, Dr Mahiga said:  “I was informed of reports by the media. I looked for the documents which are now with me right now here, I’m reading them. I will then convene a meeting with my assistants before issuing the government’s statement in the next few days,” he said.
When asked when the statement would be issued, Dr Mahiga said:“This is a serious issue that needs wider consultations. I’m aware of journalists’ eagerness to write stories, but this isn’t something to rush, we need time.” The two organisations made their position on Tanzania’s human rights situation during the release of two separate reports in Nairobi yesterday.
They were categorical the repressive actions by the authorities have stifled independent journalism besides severely restricting the activities of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the political opposition.
Human Rights Watch report, in particular, focused on repression against the media, citing the banning or suspension of at least five newspapers for content deemed critical.
These included The Citizen, one of the major English daily newspaper in Tanzania,in early 2019 and four others in 2017
The Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission also shut down a radio station, Swahiba FM, in October 2015 because it reported on the annulment and subsequent re-run of the 2015 elections.
During the survey, Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, NGO representatives and members of political parties. AI interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of non-governmental and inter-governmental groups, lawyers, academics, religious leaders, and diplomats, and reviewed court decisions, national laws, government notices and orders.
“They found that the president and senior government officials frequently made anti-human rights statements, at times followed by cracking down on individuals and organizations,” Mr Ebole added.
Both organizations found that Tanzanian authorities undermined the rights to freedom of expression and association by enforcing new and existing repressive laws and regulations governing media, NGOs and political parties.
For instance, the authorities used the 2015 Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists and activists for social media posts.